Idea Challenge Finals: Exploring the Smartest of Spaces in Helsinki

By David Knight |

The overcast weather undoubtedly didn’t help, but Helsinki can occasionally come across as a rather drab and dreary city with its fleet of buses plying up and down past slightly worn-looking 60s and 70s buildings. It’s worthwhile sticking with the place, though, €8 beers aside – the Finnish capital is one of the places to be in Europe at the moment for technological innovation.

And the second final of the Idea Challenge, held at EIT ICT Labs’ node in Espoo, west of the city centre, was anything but drab and dreary.

Smart spaces was the name of the game this time around, and the enormous diversity in the ten ideas pitched was solid evidence that this topic is one begging for innovation and disruption.

EIT ICT Labs is an EU-funded platform which brings together research, education and innovation. It has been running the Idea Challenge this year with the aim of supporting the next generation of tech companies in Europe, and the contest is spread across eight topic areas centred on eight cities.

Last week, we joined the finalists and jury in Eindhoven for the health and wellbeing event – and the Helsinki final provided a different flavour to go along with the different theme.

Espoo itself is home to science parks and students, many of whom attend Aalto University. Created in 2010 from the merger of the Helsinki University of Technology, the Helsinki School of Economics, and the University of Art and Design Helsinki, Aalto is made up of six schools with more than 19,000 students – and also includes the Open Innovation House, its ICT hub located in a purpose-built centre on the edge of the Otaniemi campus.

Alongside the EIT ICT Labs node, the OIH houses AppCampus, the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology and the Nokia Research Centre, not to mention startups and masters students. You don’t need to scratch very far beneath the surface of Helsinki to find the life blood of innovation and creativity running through the city’s veins.

The crowd in Helsinki. Photo: Silicon Allee/David Knight

The crowd in Helsinki. Photo: Silicon Allee/David Knight

The OIH also played host to the pitches which, unlike in Eindhoven, were made in public in front of an engaged audience before the jury experts from industry and from within EIT ICT Labs. In such a setting, under the spotlight in front of dozens or even hundreds of onlookers, pitching becomes more of a performance, and indeed more emphasis seemed to be placed on the presentations.

There was everything from a video introduction timed with real life entrance onto the stage, to loud slogans accompanied by fist pumps, to a pitch featuring three speakers – bad idea, people – to a total meltdown mid-pitch as the words simply wouldn’t come (followed, it must be said, by a great recovery).

So who were these teams in search of the first prize of €40,000 as well as coaching and mentoring from EIT ICT Labs, integration into its big network and office space for six months?

In order of pitching, there was:


Based in Finland, Avansera offers shoppers the most efficient way to fill their grocery basket, at savings of up to 30 percent – while also promising to disrupt the way the retail industry markets its goods.

CEO Cormac Walsh told the audience that manufacturers don’t really understand what’s in the minds of consumers; the decision points and triggers that lead to the make up of individual baskets, as well as the relationships between different product categories within each basket.

Hence Avansera’s DeepDive prodcut – a real-time dashboard using data about what is happening in any store and in any location, in order to improve supply chain processes and inventory management.

It’s a suite of productivity applications enabling shoppers to have a better experience, and in doing so collecting a massive quantity of highly relevant behavioural information which can replace current market research.


Mapnaut is a mobile app that allows users to create and share bookmarks on physical places – known as placemarks – and visualise them in a distance-based feed (the spaceline, rather than the timeline).

Pitcher Damiano Gui said that smart spaces involved a place where information flowed – and that it was Mapnaut who would make the information flow in this case. He described it as content not location; so for example, if you looked it up on Foursquare then and there it would be info on the Idea Challenge itself rather than the Open Innovation House. The aim is to create a dynamic database in which the users themselves create the content.

Custom promoted in-app actions such as redeeming a coupon, subscribing to a mailing list or reserving a service with a single tap could be added by business users to any placemark and made immediately available to customers.


InPict pitching. Photo: Silicon Allee/David Knight

InPict pitching. Photo: Silicon Allee/David Knight


This German startup is producing a display device which fits into a photo frame, but which can provide you with detailed smart information like weather conditions, your schedule for the day or even adverts for local services.

It’s designed to be a link between smart sensors and their users, according to pitcher Dominik Lahmann, aggregating information and displaying it in a richer environment. Sensor data can include anything from the contents of your physical mailbox to how wet the soil us outside.

The device will cost €150 for end consumers, will connect to the Internet via wireless to stay up to day and will make use of wireless charging.


QGo is all about spending less of your time in a queue. Pitchers Christinne Cuyugan and Jacob Schröger – after a lively start to the sounds of Eye of the Tiger – revealed that they had chosen to concentrate on ski lift queues; perhaps a natural choice for this Austrian startup.

Ski resorts can install cameras linked up to the QGo algorithms, which can then analyse the graphical data and determine how many people are in the queue, and how long the wait is – and can then feed this to others elsewhere on the pistes via, for example, TV monitors or an app, enabling them to choose a ski run down to a less busy lift.

With a successful pilot project at two resorts, the initial prospects are good – and the potential is there for the technology to be applied to a myriad of other areas, such as theme park attractions, shopping malls, stadiums or popular tourist sites.


Jukeboss is a mobile application which allows guests at an event to vote for the songs they want to hear and build music selection in a collaborative way. Additionally, the app shows the song currently playing with some innovative visualisation.

It automatically selects the next song to be played according to its amount of votes, or the platform can be integrated with common professional DJ tools to allow the professionals to remain in charge, albeit with a better idea of what people want to listen to.

It works with iTunes, and pitcher German Leiva said the initial idea was to target corporate and marketing events.


Lokkupp is an indoor positioning platform for finding people wherever they are – rather than run about trying to locate them the old-fashioned way. For example, in a pilot project at Sweden’s largest hospital, the team discovered that 30 minutes in every nursing shift was lost while spent trying to locate someone.

Instead, Lokkupp aims to provide instantly available indoor positioning in any populated area while preserving privacy and maintaining accuracy, using scalable mobile ad hoc peer-to-peer networking technology based on unique algorithms.

Despite the existence of around 170 competitors, pitcher Torbjörn Nord insisted that no one else could offer the same package – and said that Lokkupp could be for indoor positioning what GPS became for its outdoors equivalent.


Another German startup, txtData aims to make content discoverable, browsable and searchable by location. Its semantic technology automatically analyses text and determines the locations where it is relevant, based on OpenStreetMap data.

There is a strong focus on local and hyper-local content, and the platform can detect a wide range of location names in unstructured text such as addresses, street names, POIs, venues and neighbourhoods.

This might be interesting, for example, for publishers of local content such as local newspapers or travel guides. There is also the possibility for third party location-based service apps which show users which articles, news or blog posts are relevant to their current surroundings.

And, indeed, this is the direction that pitcher Michael Kaisser said the company wants to go in; not so much attempting to be the Google for finding stuff based on location, but rather licensing the technology to publishers to build better websites and apps than they could manage themselves.


Uniqul is all about enabling payments based on face recognition. After all, credit cards are fiddly to use, cost merchants money and can easily be stolen. Whereas your face is your face, and pitcher Oscar Tuutti said that in a pilot project, only 2 percent of users needed to use their PINs.

So forget traditional means of identification like cards, mobile devices or passwords – getting access to a service or device will be a matter of just walking up to it. After installing the Uniqul cameras, the tracking algorithm enables the user to move freely in front of the camera, and the initial recognition can be made from up to ten meters.

To start with, the company will focus on payments in locations where speed and convenience are key, such as at airports and petrol stations.


How much do we really know about our environment when indoors? The quality of air in buildings can be frankly terrible – yet indoor environmental quality has been largely ignored.

With a majority of employees in large organisations reporting issues about their workplaces, the 720º team wants to help said organisations to provide healthier and more productive environments.

Their solution is to use data from indoor sensors and systematically collect information on occupational health and wellbeing to deliver insights on current conditions to employees and employers.

Analysis of this data can then bring about to preventive actions and improvements, leading to what pitcher Tomas Novotny claimed was a €3 billion a year problem in Finland alone.


Based in the Dutch town of Enschede, Homey wants to create the most complete home automation device yet, creating a more natural and faster interaction experience compared to current solutions like app-controlled systems.

This is achieved by combining a smartphone app for remote control with voice recognition and analysis for in-house interaction, significantly reducing the time and steps needed to control devices.

The system also links tasks and sensors in the background, making it able for example to turn up the heat in winter when you approach your home. The system will feature numerous technologies and protocols, including seven different wireless standards plus infrared, so the team claims all remote controlled devices will be compatible hardware-wise with Homey.

A Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the first round of production kicked off last week and has already seen more than €153,000 pledged.

The finalists. Photo: Silicon Allee/David Knight

The finalists. Photo: Silicon Allee/David Knight

And the winner is…

It was a case of last and very much not least as Homey walked away with first prize, beating QGo into second (worth €25,000 plus the other add-ons) and Avansera (€15,000 plus add-ons).

Afterwards, Homey’s Stefan Witkamp told Silicon Allee: “It was really incredible. The tension was so high and we had no idea how it was going to end, because the ideas were all good and all so different. It was all joy, happiness and relief.”

Clutching the first place trophy, which took the shape of a paper aeroplane, he added: “This gives us a lot of confirmation as a company. So it will definitely help us take flight.”

Petri Liuha, the Action Line Leader for Smart Spaces at EIT ICT Labs, was chairman of the jury, and afterwards he said: “The teams did a very good job, made a great effort in presenting their ideas. For me it was also very interesting to look at how different the concepts were. That also made it very difficult to compare them to each other.”

Overall, he added, the standard of presentation was good but there was still plenty to work on for some of what are admittedly fairly early stage ideas: “Some of the teams have to really think what they are trying to do; they are still thinking too broadly, or they haven’t understand what they are offering, the added value they are offering to different customers. So maybe some of them will do some pivoting and find a better market, a real niche they can go after.”

Helsinki may have been late to the table with its rapid urbanisation taking place in the 1970s, after most of the rest of Western Europe, but it’s at the forefront of a new kind of urbanisation in technology – watch this (smart) space.

Another Idea Challenge final, in cyber-phyiscal systems, was being held simultaneously in Munich; we’ll have more details on that later this week. Later this month, meanwhile, we’ll be in Rennes in France for the final in the future cloud topic.